Oh what a little tweet can do.
Kirk Hamilton, one of my favorite Kotaku writers, yesterday published this little piece about a tweet I sent out that compared videogames to pornography. Twitter of course is the media par excellence for condensation out of context, and while Kirk did a good job of highlighting other tweets of mine that were part of the larger thread, I wanted to respond here and just explain myself a bit more.
My main point is that pornography and videogames are wonderfully similar – in quite non-intuitve ways. Structurally, they are both highly repetitive media – the banality of predictable, repeated events in hardcore porn mirrored by the essentially repetitive core mechanic of any video game. Furthermore, they are also both media premised on getting a physical reaction from their audiences – bodily sexual excitation for porn, and real-time response in the case of videogames. Narrative in both cases is a wink and a nudge – a thin scrim that helps lead from one moment of interaction to the next.
The tweet that Kirk focused on also mentions the spectacle intrinsic to both cultural forms. This is perhaps the most obvious connection between videogames and porn, but for my purposes as a game designer, the least interesting. I’m much more interested in the strategies by which media effects bodies in space – and of course this extends beyond “mainstream AAA videogames” to include any videogame and in fact, any game. So I didn’t mean to unreasonably single out AAA games – they’re just the most obvious target for the porn comparison. Such are the limitations of tweeting.
Regarding the comments that Kirk’s piece spawned, I agree that gratuitous juxtapositions between two cultural forms is usually not all that interesting. As a game designer, I find too often that our points of reference for discussing and creating games are other games, or at best, other forms of hipster pop culture. In comparing videogames as media to pornography as media, I’m casting out a net to find concepts that can help me lever my design thinking into a new space.
Sex is a vital part of human life, and important subject matter for most cultural forms – from poetry and opera to rock-n-roll and underground comix. The discussions of sex and videogames typically focuses on the surface of games – what spectators might see on the screen over the shoulder of a player, and how they are sexist or otherwise objectionable. I heartily agree that the politics of representation are totally fucked up in mainstream videogames (as they are in most mainstream media, from sitcoms to print magazine covers). But for me games are not an intrinsically visual form of culture.
So what I was after, in that line of tweeted thinking, was to ask: If we look past the surface of games, is it possible to find new directions for game design that might harness the ancient and noble power of sex?
But don’t expect me to come to terribly subtle conclusions over Twitter.
Thanks, Kirk! I think.
Update: Kirk has posted this followup to his original piece. Until we meet again, Hamilton….